Phil Blizzard here speaks with Alain St. Ange, minister for tourism & culture, Republic of the Seychelles, about the island’s tourism growth in 2013, the importance of ITB Berlin and the German tourism market, along with their development plans for 2014 and the introduction of a new master plan.
Breaking Travel News: Lets start with ITB in Berlin; what was the key message you were putting out to visitors to this, the largest travel and tourism show in the world?
Alain St. Ange: Well, if I can start by saying that ITB 2014 was a total success for Seychelles.
A total success because we went there knowing full well that we were growing in double digit figures from Germany.
So we needed to consolidate our approach for the German market and also look at our partners coming out of Europe as itself, to see why we were not performing as good in some areas and what we could do to increase that growth.
So the message was Seychelles is there, Seychelles remains serious, Seychelles remains a tour operator destination and Seychelles today is accessible as never before.
BTN: A few things to talk about, including you new tourism master plan, but before that let us reflect back on last year in terms of visitor arrivals to the Seychelles. What sort of growth did you get?
ASA: We got an 11 per cent growth last year.
I often tell people we are not in the numbers game. We do not look for numbers. This is why we do not have charters to Seychelles.
We are looking at progressive growth but a growth that helps the economy of a country.
Seychelles depends on tourism. It remains the pillar of our economy.
So we need to ensure that our growth is well calculated and that we pan it out that we get growth from every destination.
We are just being intelligent in our approach.
If there was an economic difficulty in one region, we want to be able to survive it because without tourism, our people will suffer.
BTN: So 11 per cent growth last year, you say, across the different countries but was there any particular region which you had a higher growth than others?
ASA: Totally. Germany was one, which is why we went to ITB in full force this year.
Germany grew extremely well. China obviously, which is taking a leap forward I would have never expected.
Russia, the Middle East, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi showing increased numbers that are definitely worth it for us, and then Africa.
BTN: I want to ask you about the Middle East in terms of carriers from that region into the Seychelles. This has been enhanced with Etihad, the Abu Dhabi based carrier, taking a 45 per cent share in your national airline. What has been the impact of that?
ASA: Well, I think firstly they solidified Air Seychelles.
They made Air Seychelles an airline, not just a carrier that we had, but today a proper airline that declares a dividend and makes profit.
But more so, being in partnership, it opened up the Seychelles and the roots of Seychelles to the world.
Seychelles now appears - I was in Germany’s Berlin and you could see buses passing with Seychelles in there as a partner of Etihad.
So the name Seychelles is today a bit everywhere and I am sure that it has helped us to become more visible because of the might of Etihad.
It has helped us to become – when you become visible, you become relevant.
Today we are more relevant than before and it has positioned us as a destination of choice.
So today you can pull from the whole of Germany into Abu Dhabi and this in itself is an asset that we have.
BTN: Okay. Well, moving from the perspective of ITB in Berlin to the new tourism master plan, what are the key elements of that?
ASA: I think the tourism master plan was planning to ensure that Seychelles tourism is consolidated. We know it is a pillar of the economy.
We know it is vital for us and we are not allowed to make mistakes.
So we had to use the master plan that was grown from the bottom up.
That took the points of view of people involved in the economy but also the laymen who depend in way or another on fishing or gardening or artisans so that they also benefit from it.
We have done this and we are happy with the plan.
BTN: That seems like a unique approach as you say starting from the bottom up.
ASA: That was the instruction that the President of the Republic gave us - not to sit in the office of Seychelles and find something that you want.
Get out there and get the people.
But we know we are going to have to adapt it in the next two years with the points of today and now that I have the office of culture as well, we are using culture a lot in our base of marketing, we now need to focus how we can use culture better.
BTN: We will finish off with your growth of tourism figures, last year you had seven percent growth, so what are you predicting for 2014?
ASA: Well, this year we will have five percent up over last year and I believe sincerely that we will beat it.
All indications are quite clear.
We are now in our six percent of overlap last year already and the indications are, even though the times are different, our main markets are suffering economically but diversification that we put into place.
Diversification of markets is showing that we did the right thing at the right time and not only giving glossy brochures out but plain people, putting people who speak with their heart and with their feelings is working for Seychelles.
Take a look at the official tourism website for the Seychelles here.
Interview by: Phil Blizzard